Reservations about making reservations?
Cheryl Thorne, director of the Vista Club at First State Bank in Mendota, Illinois, probably speaks for many bank directors who are a little squeamish about taking their groups to large festivities.
“The idea of going to an event where we would be shoulder to shoulder with other people is not a good idea to me. I’m kind of a mother hen, and I don’t want a disgruntled group,” she said.
However, Thorne knows that destinations that host these events are often outstanding places to visit. Not wanting to miss out, the group still visits festival destinations, but not during the events.
“The Warrens Cranberry Festival in Warrens, Wisconsin, is touted as the largest cranberry festival in the world,” she said. “It’s a beautiful area with so much to offer, and so we decided to visit this cranberry capital on our own at a time when there were no crowds. We experienced a cranberry marsh tour and so much more.
“However, I’ll always take my group to an event if it is requested. My advisory board has asked we attend the 125th anniversary of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and if that is what they finally decide, we’ll do it,” she added.
Help is available
Fears about attending events that attract thousands are often well founded: These festivities often take place over many acres, a considerable amount of walking is typically required, and it is sometimes difficult to navigate wheelchairs.
But destinations are often aware of a tour leader’s concerns and make considerable concessions to cater to groups. Although the Warrens Cranberry Festival, with 850 craft booths, entertainment and parades, does attract thousands, it also offers special arrangements for motorcoaches, including a step-on guide for a cranberry marsh tour.
Thorne might also be happy to hear that the Rose Bowl Parade offers a tour package that includes the services of a professional tour host, reserved grandstand seating, a behind-the-scenes visit at float-decorating sites and much more.
The Iowa State Fair, offers not only areas for motorcoach drop-offs, but an Older Iowans’ Day that allows for a hassle-free experience for club members who need assistance.
The fair features a welcome tent and personal greeters who assist with any special needs, and advance admission packages that save time and money on rides, food and special events.
Partnering with group leaders to make the event experience more enjoyable is becoming a normal procedure for festivals and destinations, among them a fairly new gathering, Southern Indiana Uncorked, a wine and microbrew festival in Harrison County.
“Held at our county fairgrounds, there are free wine and beer tastings and more. While wine tours are always available at our local wineries, you can find all the great wine in one place during the festival,” said Sherry Watson, marketing manager for the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We work with groups to give them special treatment and also arrange for them to experience history in Corydon, the state’s first capital; visit an art-glass factory for a demonstration; shop in our town square; and enjoy some ice cream in one of our old-fashioned parlors,” she said.
Cobb, who admitted being nervous about the crowds at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, now touts the advantages of offering time at large events.
“We just started this club from scratch three years ago. Today, we have 300 members, and that number continues to grow every week,” she said. “These travels with the big events highlighting the itinerary have really been successful and have played a part in those growing numbers.”